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FIC P4M-RS350 FIC P4M-RS350: If you're looking for a MicroATX board as a base for a HTPC, you might want to check if FIC's solution based on ATI's RS350 chipset is for you.
Date: December 31, 2004
Manufacturer:
Written By:

FIC has been a mainstay in the motherboard market for years. Maybe not as popular as Abit or Asus, but they have done well none the less. ATI has been a mainstay in the Video and Video Adjunct market for years, ATI and motherboards, until recently, were unheard of. Maybe ATI got tired of hearing how well nVidia is doing in the chipset arena and decided to play along, or maybe they felt they bring something to the table that was missing, most notably, integrated Video that didn't suck.

In my grubby little hands today I am looking over an ATI RS350 chipset based FIC motherboard, the . This is a MicroATX motherboard that includes onboard Audio, USB, LAN, SATA and of course, Video. Let's take a look at the P4M's specifications.

CPU Intel P4 A/B/C/E (400/533/800 MHz FSB)
Chipset ATI RS350 / ATI IXP300
Video ATI 9100 Pro IGP DDR SSE2
Memory 4 DIMM supporting Dual Channel DDR 400/333/266
Expansion Slots 3 x PCI / 1 x AGP 4x/8x
LAN Realtek 8100C
Audio Realtek ALC655 - AC' 97 codec 5.1 channel

The FIC P4M-RS350

I received this board from FIC without the usual fanfare; there was no included Driver CD, extra games, manual or other software that would be included with your purchase. With this, I unfortunately can not tell you what is truly included in the standard purchased packaging.

As we've already mentioned, the board is based on the ATI RS350 chipset. It officially supports Intel's Socket-478 3.6GHz and lower (it should also support LGA775, but obviously not on this board), as well as up to 4GB of DDR400 ram. Dual Channel is supported (though only up to 1GB per channel) and the ram slots are colour coded to ease installation. The ATI RS350 is passively cooled by an aluminum heatsink. Given the board is targeted at OEMs and small PCs, cutting down on the noise was probably the deciding factor in going with a passive solution.

Up to four IDE devices are supported via two IDE channels which are located along the edge of the motherboard. Next to the IDE are the floppy and ATX power connections as well. The board also has two SATA connections which along with supporting single drives, they support RAID-0, and 1.

For expansion, there are three PCI slots and one AGP 8x slot. While the board has onboard graphics, those of you looking to get a little more VPU power can easily upgrade to a discreet AGP solution.

Removing the RS350 heatsink exposes the main chipset. The chipset supports Direct X 8.1 natively and has pixel shader 1.4 support, though ATI did optimize the chipset for DX9 as well.

Installation

I physically installed the motherboard without issue, as this is a MicroATX board. I installed the memory and external devices (KB, Mouse, HD and CD-ROM) then proceeded to install Windows XP-SP2. This is where I ran into issues. Windows XP installed fine, however, it did not recognize several of the integrated components on this board. The video was easily averted by simply installing the latest ATI software. I, however, needed to get to the FIC website and download specific drivers for the LAN, Audio and chipset accelerators. Once on the website I went searching for the updates, I am not new mind you to searching for updated drivers, it's typically a weekly thing for me. Even so, I was not able to locate any downloads for this motherboard, not even the current manual.

In my day job I work in customer service, and it is very important to me that a manufacturer has at minimum, a decent customer service group. I contacted FIC using their technical support email address as a normal user would, asking for assistance in finding drivers for my particular motherboard, as well as the manual. I also continued searching their website. After three days and no response, I contacted the channel that had gotten me the motherboard in the first place as to a location of the drivers. They replied with an "I will get that information to you as soon as possible". It has now been almost 45 days, and I have yet to hear from either. This and this alone, is enough for me personally not to purchase an FIC product.

I am including a couple of screenshots below from their website, this is where I selected this motherboard, then continued to the next page to download the drivers and manual. Interesting isn't it?

Oh, and how, you may be asking, did I get the drivers etc to run the tests for this review? As I mentioned, ATI was easy enough for the integrated IGP9100, standard ATI drivers. The LAN and Audio I found the chips they used on the motherboard and downloaded generic drivers from the web. The chipset drivers, well, that is another story, lets just say that if you have an RS-350 chipset, it is new enough that the driver is generic to the point that I can install, say MSI's version of it, and it will work fine.

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